Skip to main content

“One can, of course, cultivate Yiddish as one cultivates any tradition to which nothing more can be added. I remember about forty years ago discussing this question with Moshe Nadir, a great master of Yiddish and a master also of the paradox. At that time people were already discussing the chances of the survival or development of Yiddish in America.

Nadir was skeptical: ‘I do not believe,’ he said, ‘that Yiddish will survive; but I do not mind if it does not. If our language dies out, we, Yiddish writers, will be read and studied as are the masters of any dead literature — Greek or Latin. We shall become classics. The future generations will read my satires as we now read and study Horace or Ovid.’

Nadir’s paradox has come true much earlier and in a much grimmer manner than he could have imagined. In spite of his apparent, or feigned, indifference to the fate of his language, Nadir would have been eager to find means of sharing with English-speaking readers the full flavour of Yiddish poetry and prose and to convey to them the richness of the Yiddish literary heritage.

But he was aware that no matter how intelligent, tender, and loving these efforts might be, they would have in them that element of archaeological research, of the work that goes into restoring and presenting fragments of a colossal Pompeii…

—Isaac Deutscher, “Who is a Jew?”, 1966

Moyshe Nadir, drawing by Zuni Maud